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JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Adopt a TSA Pup
Retired explosives detection dogs are looking for forever homes.
It has long been common practice for service dog organizations to adopt out the pups that didn't meet their high standards, but now the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is instituting a similar program to rehome explosives detection dogs.

The TSA is looking for forever homes for the pups who have either retired or didn't make it through their training program. The dogs typically range in age from two to 10 years old and are usually German Short Haired Pointers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, or Belgian Malinois.

These explosives detection pups will likely be well trained, but will come with unique challenges. As you can imagine, these working dogs need homes that can continue to provide an active lifestyle. In addition, unlike service dog school drop outs, explosives detection pups aren't used to a home environment because the TSA's dogs live in kennels. There is sure to be a considerable adjustment period, so I hope that the TSA plans on providing some support and guidance during the transition.

There's no adoption fee, but all prospective families must fill out an application and be approved. If applicants meet the requirements, photos and information on the available dogs will be sent and the Adoption Coordinator will help match families with the best pup for their home.

If you're interested in adopting an ex-TSA dog, contact the Adoption Coordinator at AdoptaTSAcanine@OLE.tsa.dhs.gov. This seems like a great program to ensure that these hard working pups live out their retirement days with a loving family.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dining with Dogs Bill Passed
N.Y. State now officially allows restaurants to welcome pets in outdoor spaces.
This week New York Governor Cuomo signed the "Dining with Dogs" bill into law, which had been sponsored by assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. Effective immediately, the state joins the city of Los Angeles in officially allowing outdoor restaurants and bars to welcome dogs. The new law reverses an old ordinance that excluded animals from sharing outdoor space with dining humans, although judging by the number of dogs I see at New York City sidewalk tables, it wasn't heavily enforced.

Despite the popularity of dining city pups, this summer there was some concern that the bill wouldn't pass. The New York City Health Department was outspoken against the legislation, saying it would "create a risk to the health and safety of diners, restaurant workers, and other dogs. However, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Health, the city has reported no increase in the number of incidents or complains related to dogs in restaurants since passing their similar bill in 2012.

Fortunately the law passed and it's now up to individual restaurants to decide whether or not they'd like to allow pets in their patio, sidewalk, or backyard spaces. Since New York is headed into colder weather, it's likely that most people and their pups won't be able to take advantage of the new law until next year.

Now I just hope that people will be responsible and only bring well behaved, well socialized pups to these restaurants and bars. I'd like to think that we can show New York that making more places pet friendly is a good thing!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Courtroom Dogs Protected
Ohio court rules against a case challenging the use of therapy dogs during a trial.
Earlier this year I wrote about the expansion of the courtroom dog program in New York. These therapy dogs play an invaluable role in helping victims feel comfortable on the stand, which can be a traumatizing experience.

Recently that privilege was challenged in Ohio, when a convicted sex offender argued that Avery, the Labrador-Golden Retriever mix brought in by the county prosecutor, swayed the jury. It marked the first time that a state appellate court heard a case challenging the use of therapy dogs during a trial. Thankfully the court ruled that the therapy dog did not influence the jury.

"One of my main objectives as Summit County prosecutor is to fight for the rights of victims, especially children," says Sherri Bevan Walsh. "Court can be a very intimidating and stressful place. Avery eases that stress and makes the whole process easier to handle, and helps us get the truth out."

To date, the four-year old pup has supported victims in 77 court cases, providing an incredible service. I'm glad that the Ohio court ruled in Avery's favor, protecting the valuable service of courtroom dogs all over the country.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ivermectin Toxicity While Herding
An Austalian Shepherd is poisoned from eating the feces of a recently dewormed sheep.
Coming from a family with Shetland Sheepdogs and Border Collies, I've always avoided heartworm medication with ivermectin, a drug that some herding breed dogs are sensitive to, due to a genetic mutation. There's a simple test your veterinarian can perform to know for sure, but most of us with herding breeds just use alternate medications.

So ivermectin toxicity wasn't even on Laura Liebenow's mind last month when she brought her Australian Shepherd, Bristol, to a farm to herd sheep. During the herding lesson, Bristol ingested sheep feces, something my dogs have done many times. It wouldn't have been a problem, except that these sheep had been recently dewormed with a product containing ivermectin.

Soon after, Bristol started seizing and eventually became unresponsive. The poor pup was in critical condition and at risk or developing neurological damage. Bristol was quickly transferred to the veterinary school at Tufts University and placed on a mechanical ventilator. It took 10 days for Bristol to begin to breathe on her own and three weeks for her to regain consciousness. Once awake, Bristol needed the assistance of a cart and leg splints to walk. Incredibly Bristol made a full recovery after 40 days in the hospital--no easy feat.

Tufts says that they only treat one or two ivermectin toxicity cases each year, and they're usually from dogs that are exposed to higher-dose ivermectin products intended for farm animals.

A simple cheek swab can be performed by veterinarians to find out if your dog has the genetic mutation behind ivermectin sensitivity, but Bristol's story highlights the need to be vigilant when your pets are exposed to horses or farm animals. Next time I bring my dogs herding, I'll definitely ask if any of the animals were treated with ivermectin recently.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cross-Species Teamwork
Canine and human doctors collaborate on treating cleft defects.

Mr. Moo, a mixed breed puppy from Michigan, was born nine months ago with a cleft palate that forced him to eat through a tube. He was lucky to be taken under the wing of Doctor Bryden Stanley, chief of surgery for small animals at Michigan State University, but the veterinarian was unsure of how to treat the young dog. Usually soft tissue from the same area of the mouth would be used to build a flap over the hole, but there was no soft tissue in the direct area.

So Dr. Stanley sought out Dr. John Girotto, director of craniofacial surgery at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. Dr. Girotto recommended doing what he does for kids without soft tissue—take it from inside of the cheek.

In May, Dr. Stanley performed the surgery on Mr. Moo, believed to be the first time the technique was ever performed on a dog. The puppy has since completely healed and has inspired the doctors to collaborate on helping more dogs and people with this condition.

Cleft lips and palates are a fairly common birth defect in kids, with one in 700 children born with the condition. There are no statistics on how common the defect is in dogs, but its thought to be more common in flat-nosed dogs.

Doctors Stanley and Girotto are now teaming up with two MSU geneticists in investigating the cause of cleft defects. The benefit of including dogs in the study is that results are available quicker, since they age faster than people.

There are some differences in treating dogs and humans, namely the number of doctors and other professionals involved. Dogs normally get two surgeries and then they're done, but children with cleft palates are seen by a whole team of people including, a craniofacial surgeon, plastic surgeon, orthodontist, speech therapist, an ear, nose, and throat doctor, and sometimes even a social worker and geneticist.

Doctors Stanley and Girotto are also working on another project. They're planning to treat dogs with cleft defects and then train them to be therapy dogs. These pups will then be able to visit with kids having the same surgery, allowing for a special kind of bond.

I love to see collaborations between doctors and veterinarians!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
NYC Behavior Program Works with Abused Pups
ASPCA's new state of the art center rehabilitates dogs to prepare them for adoption.

Last year the ASPCA closed its small enforcement unit, known to many from the television show, Animal Precinct, and shifted enforcement duty to the New York Police Department. With the police department's increased resources and wider reach, the number of dog cruelty cases surged, leading the ASPCA to open a new behavior center designed to handle the most horrific cases. These dogs come in so traumatized that they cannot be safely put up for adoption. In most cities, these pups would be automatically euthanized, but this new lifesaving program gives them the time and resources needed to heal.

When Alvin, a young Pit Bull mix, arrived at the center three months ago, he was so emaciated and weak that he couldn't walk. His owner was charged with his abuse. Alvin was quickly nursed back to physical health, but the emotional scars were much harder to heal. Alvin was afraid of people that he didn't recognize, as well as unfamiliar clothing and objects.

Animal behaviorist, Victoria Wells, worked patiently with him, wearing costumes to teach Alvin to trust strangers. He's made incredible progress since coming to the center.

Victoria says that dogs like Alvin come in broken and hopeless, but leave happy and healthy.

The ASPCA's state of the art facility was specially designed with these pups in mind. The center features rooms that can be cleaned without handlers having to enter a dog's individual space. Soundproofing and light dimmers are used, along with calming scents and music, to create a tranquil atmosphere. Specialists carefully monitor each dog's condition and progress each day. This information is used to customize the behavior modification programs, but also to provide evidence in the prosecution of abusive owners.

As you can imagine, dogs who finally graduate from the center's program must be matched with a family willing to care for a pet with severe challenges. Those who don't improve enough and are considered dangerous to humans or other dogs, are euthanized.

The center's comprehensive approach has attracted interest from other humane organizations around the country. It would be great to see elements of this facility implemented elsewhere. The program is not cheap by any means, but ASPCA president, Matthew Bershadker explains why it's so important.

“We owe these animals because we, as a society, as a species, have so horribly betrayed them and failed them. It’s our responsibility to make sure they live the life they were born to live.”

New York is lucky to have such a comprehensive and progressive program!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
At-Home Canine Cognition Testing
Duke finds the games conducted by 'citizen scientists' hold up in the lab.

A few years ago I wrote about bringing my dogs to Harvard's Canine Cognition Lab, where my Shelties participated in a study on understanding human gestures. Since then, a web site called Dognition was created allowing you to play similar game-like tests with your dogs to learn about their cognitive and problem solving skills.

Over 17,000 people have participated since the web site started, seeking to find out more about what their pets are thinking. But do the the results hold up in these at-home tests? Duke University's Canine Cognition Center decided to find out.

In their study, Duke looked at data collected by 500 Dognition users from their at-home games. On five of the seven tests analyzed, the data corresponded closely to what had been produced in labs at Duke University and other research facilities.

Dognition was developed by Brian Hare, a professor at Duke who studies primate and dog cognition. People and their dogs were having so much fun participating in his research that he wanted to bring the tests online, allowing animal lovers around the world to learn more about their pets. But Dognition has turned out to be not only fun and games.

Evan MacLean, co-director of the Canine Cognition Center, says that the data these dog owners are producing is actually quality data that is resulting in unique insights.

Analysis of Dognition's unusually large dataset found that dogs have a unique set of cognition skills that they use to navigate the world around them. Some pups were found to be good communicators, while others had better memories or were better at taking their owner's perspective.

“So much is possible when you have this much data,” explained Professor Hare, I'm looking forward to dog owners answering all the big questions that have puzzled scientists for decades.” Very cool!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Man and Pup Saved from S. Car. Creek
A Canadian man refused to leave his dog behind in the flood waters.
South Carolina has been inundated by flood water, resulting from what Governor Nikki Haley called a "storm of historic proportions." But amid the loss and tragedy, there have also been heartwarming stories of rescue and goodwill.

Last weekend George Osterhues was on a road trip from Ottawa, Canada to Florida with his Yorkie, Tila, when they took a detour off Interstate 77 due to the bad weather. Unfortunately George and Tila ended up on a street that runs across a creek that was overflowing. The swelling water quickly submerged the road and it was too late to escape.

Fortunately Chester, South Carolina resident Tom Hall was scouting the area to see if anyone might need help. As he got to the creek, Tom noticed the trapped car and waded in the water to get a closer look. That's when he saw George, who at this point had been in the water for several hours.

Tom yelled over to George that he would be right back and ran home to get his family, a life preserver, and some rope. When he returned, the water was so strong that it was difficult to move. But he managed to get over to the car, where the water was already chest deep. Tom was ready to pull George out of the window, but George refused to leave without Tila. At first Tom tried to convince George to let him come back for Tila, but George insisted that they go together. So Tom ended up towing both of them to shore at the same time.

The whole rescue took an hour with the help of his son and wife. Since George didn't have a car anymore, the Halls invited him and Tila to stay with them until they could arrange for a hotel and rental car to get him back on his way to Florida.

George credits the Halls with saving his life and was humbled by their generosity. It's always nice to hear stories like these among all the bad news. I'm just glad that George and Tila are safe!

Wellness: Healthy Living
Toxic Mushroom Kills The Rock's Puppy
The Rock's was unable to save his French Bulldog for the second time.
Actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made the news last month when he saved his new puppy, Brutus, from drowning in his family's pool. The young French Bulldog was running in his new backyard for the first time when he made a beeline towards the pool. Not knowing how to swim, Brutus began to sink to the bottom. The Rock immediately jumped in, fully clothed, and pulled the pup to safety. But this month it was another backyard hazard that ultimately took Brutus' life. The Rock has been committed to sharing his tragic story.

Earlier this week Brutus was outside playing with his brother, Hobbs, another French Bulldog, when Brutus ate a mushroom. It happened to be poisonous and within hours the toxins were destroying his liver and immune system. On Monday The Rock was forced to take Brutus off life support. Hoping to prevent this from happening to other families, The Rock took to Instagram with a warning. Alongside a photo of Brutus, he said, “I encourage all of you out there to be mindful of mushrooms in your yards, parks or anywhere outside your dogs play. What looks innocent, can be deadly to your lil’ family members.” The message was capped with the hashtag #WishICouldveSavedYouOneMoreTime.

The Rock's message is an important reminder to check the plants that are in your backyard and any other outdoor spaces your dogs play in. In my yard, mushrooms will often pop up overnight. The ASPCA has a searchable database of plants toxic to pets, with photos, if you find anything you don't recognize. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Sledding and Pediatric Cancer Patients
Study uses adapted activity to improve physical and psychological health.
Pediatric cancer patients have so much of their childhood stolen from them, and attempts to protect them can sometimes do more harm in this area. Often caretakers with good intentions will shield these kids from physical activities. However, a new study has shown that some pediatric cancer patients can actually benefit from a little more adventure in their lives, on both a physical and psychological level. Given that the activity studied was dog sledding, and what we know about the positive effects of therapy dogs, I think that the pups may have had a lot to do with the outcome as well!

Researchers followed eleven children, aged 10 to 18 years old, on an expedition organized by Sourire à la Vie, a French non-profit that supports the use of adapted physical activity for young cancer patients. The kids received training and exercises in preparation for the excursion, then traveled with doctors and nurses to race dog sleds in Northern Canada. They also participated in the pups' care while they were there.

The study found that not only can most pediatric cancer patients participate in adapted physical activities, even during treatment, they showed an improvement in both physical and psychological health. Laurent Grélot, professor at Aix Marseille University, explained that the activity had many benefits. "It avoids cardiovascular and muscular deconditioning, can decrease treatment induced fatigue, and can help in maintaining social integration."

No doubt the canines had an impact on the result as well. "One of the main reasons why we chose dog sledding was to create a unique sportive experience based on change of scenery and building a strong relationship with animals," explains Frédéric Sotteau, founder of Sourire à la Vie.

As a next step, the researchers are planning to do a randomized trial to further evaluate the benefits of adapted physical activities for children with cancer. However, you don't need to look at the data to see the positive effects.

"Before my cancer diagnosis, I used to do a lot of sport, but then I lost self-confidence and my body was not able to cope with physical efforts," says Merwan, an 18-year-old patient. "This trip in Canada transformed me. I am in shape again, and now I know I am able to practice sport again."

This program seems like a wonderful way to combine physical activity with the healing properties of the human-canine bond!

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